ROME – When a pope creates new cardinals, he’s not only thinking about picking the man who could eventually be his replacement, but he is also making a statement about what direction he wants the Church to go.

Pope Francis’s class of 2019, set to graduate on Saturday, has a clear direction: A missionary Church that acknowledges the importance of interreligious dialogue.

Of the 13 new cardinals, 10 are under the age of 80, enabling them to vote in a future conclave.

A majority of the new batch of red hats for the Catholic Church have years of experience as missionaries; more often than not, in countries where the Catholic presence is almost non-existent.

“I interpreted [my appointment as a cardinal] from the point of view that the pastoral, missionary and interreligious dimension in this consistory is of notable importance,” Cardinal-designate Miguel Angel Ayuso Guixot told reporters on Thursday.

“If I’m not mistaken, we are 8 of the 13 new cardinals who belong to different religious families, both in the aspect of religious life and missionary life,” he added.

As a footnote, he’s not mistaken in his math: Eight of the new cardinals belong to religious orders, the rest were originally diocesan priests.

“We have worked for many years on missions, serving the Church in the world in very different circumstances,” he said.

Ayuso, originally from Spain but currently serving as head of the Vatican’s dicastery for Interreligious dialogue, spent most of his life between the Nile Valley in Egypt and South Sudan, before being transferred to Rome.

Another Spaniard, Cristóbal López Romero, currently serves as the archbishop of Rabat. A Salesian, he was in Paraguay from 1984 to 2003. From there, he went to Morocco, then Bolivia, then Spain; finally, Francis named him to lead the small Church in the Kingdom of Morocco in 2017.

“I think that the pope wanted to make visible the churches that were almost invisible,” Romero told reporters during a meet-and-greet on Thursday. “The churches in Northern Africa, [Francis] wanted to say to us that we are moving in a good direction and we have to continue to work on interreligious and inter-Christian dialogue and with immigrants.”

Morocco is a major transit point for immigrants travelling through North Africa trying to reach Europe, especially Spain.

“I think this is the intention of the pope, to confirm us in our faith and trajectory that we bring in these churches,” López said.

Francis visited Morocco earlier this year, and the cardinal designate, who refuses to be called “your eminence” – preferring instead “Father Cristobal“ – said he believes his appointment was a “wink” for the kingdom, meant to be a “thank you for working in favor of a moderate, open Islam and thank you for the work you did and continue doing for immigrants.”

Italian Archbishop Matteo Zuppi of Bologna spent most of his priestly life in Rome, spending decades as a priest at Santa Maria in Trastevere and the Community of Sant’Egido, helping forge some of the community’s most successful peace initiatives, including the first peace accord on Mozambique, in the early 1990s.

Luxembourgian Archbishop Jean-Claude Höllerich, a Jesuit, lived in Japan, where Catholics represent less than 0.3 percent of the total population, from 1994 to 2011, when Pope emeritus Benedict XVI appointed him archbishop of Luxembourg. During his priestly formation, he spent four years studying theology in Tokyo and is fluent in Japanese.

Canadian Archbishop Michael Czerny, who was consecrated as an archbishop on Friday, currently serves as undersecretary of the Vatican’s Migrant and Refugee Section of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. But this Jesuit also lived much of his life as a missionary, first in El Salvador; in Kenya, he was the founder of the African Jesuit AIDS Network.

Archbishop Michael Louis Fitzgerald’s last official position is that of papal representative to Egypt, but the Englishman is a member of the Society of the Missionaries of Africa and served in the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue for two decades before being sent to Cairo. He retired in 2012, and has since been serving as a parish priest back home.

Speaking with journalists on Thursday, Fitzgerald said that today, he’s “basically a missionary of Africa, that’s what I am. I am in a community of missionaries of Africa based in Liverpool.”

According to the cardinal designate, one can encounter the works of the Holy Spirit in “all places,” and no one place has a monopoly: “We need to be able to see the presence of God in other people and … celebrate that.”

Italian Bishop Eugenio Dal Corso, who like Fitzgerald is over 80, began his life as a missionary in 1975, when he was sent to Argentina. Eleven years later, he was sent to Angola, where he served first as a priest and then a bishop for over four decades.

“I think that this pastoral experience, I think it gave us a small footprint of the smell of the sheep,” Ayuso told reporters.

He said that a cardinal is a “prince” but only in the sense that he’s “called to total service, of giving yourself, to service to the Church, to complete disposition to the Holy Father to continue what we have already done with more intensity and dedication.”

Regardless of where each cardinal comes from, their names or even who elevated them to the Church’s most exclusive club, what matters is the “authenticity of life, the modesty, the giving of one’s self to service, humility, dedication, the motivation in anything that we do in life … We have to do it with devotion, dedicating ourselves to what is really important.”

As Ayuso noted, when the pope announced the 13 new cardinals, Francis himself highlighted the missionary and interreligious dimension of the new red hats. According to the prelate, Francis was making it “understood that the Church is a Church on the move, open to all realities.”

“But this isn’t new, the Church is universal, the Church is open to everyone and we all have to be willing to receive the message, to live it, give witness to it and transmit it to others,” he said.

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma

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